The Anathema

“This idea that the brain might be assembled in much the same way as the rest of the body—on the basis of the action of thousands of autonomous but interacting genes (shaped by natural selection)—is an anathema to our deeply held feeling that our minds are special, somehow separate from the material world. Yet at the same time, it is a continuation, perhaps the culmination, of a long trend, a growing-up for the human species that for too long has overestimated its own centrality in the universe. ”

—-Gary Marcus, “The Birth of the Mind: How a Tiny Number of Genes Creates the Complexities of Human Thought”

“Copernicus showed us that our planet is not the center of the universe. William Harvey showed that our heart is a mechanical pump. John Dalton and the 19th century chemists showed that our bodies are, like all other matter, made up of atoms. Watson and Crick showed us how genes emerged from chains of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorus. In the 1990s, the Decade of the Brain, cognitive neuroscientists showed that our minds are the product of our brains. Early returns from this century are showing that the mechanisms that build our brains are just a special case of the mechanisms that build the rest of our body. The initial structure of the mind, like the initial structure of the rest of the body, is a product of our genes.”